Leading Triple Crown contender Pioneerof the Nile drew post position No. 2 in a field of seven for Saturday’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes, his final major prep for the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4. Pioneerof the Nile figures to be an odds-on favorite in the 1 1/16-mile test.

Trainer Bob Baffert pronounced “all systems are go” after the son of Empire Maker worked five furlongs last Sunday in a bullet :58.80 under regular rider Garrett Gomez.

Gomez, the Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s outstanding rider the last two years, is five stakes wins shy of breaking the single-meet Santa Anita record of 19 shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. (1982-83) and Corey Nakatani (1996-97). Gomez has 15 stakes wins through 54 days of the 84-day meet.

The field for the 72nd San Felipe, which goes as race No. 4 on a 10-race program: He’s Really Big, Aaron Gryder; Pioneerof the Nile, Gomez; Feisty Suances, David Flores; Shafted, Joel Rosario; Jeranimo, Brice Blanc; Kelly Leak, Victor Espinoza; and New Bay, Joe Talamo. Pioneerof the Nile is highweight under 122 pounds. The others are assigned 115.


Life Is Sweet will be heavily favored when she seeks her third straight stakes win Saturday in the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. The 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat owned and bred by Marty and Pam Wygod and trained by John Shirreffs won the Grade II El Encino Stakes and the Grade II La Caňada Stakes in her only two starts this year. Garrett Gomez, aboard in both of those races, once again has the mount.

The field for the 72nd Santa Margarita: Forest Melody, Mike Smith, 113; Life Is Sweet, Gomez, 120; Bel Air Sizzle, Rafael Bejarano, 114; Modification, Tyler Baze, 113; Magical Fantasy, Alex Solis, 117; Santa Teresita, Joe Talamo, 117; and Model, Joel Rosario, 116.


Waveline returns to her best distance Sunday when she runs in the $125,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf. The 4-year-old daughter of Stravinsky is coming off two fourth-place finishes, in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at 1 1/16 miles on Pro-Ride, and the Valentine Dancer Handicap, at one mile on turf.

“This should suit her better,” trainer Ben Cecil said. “I’ve tried her long twice, but she doesn’t quite stay going two turns.” Waveline won at six furlongs on Hollywood Park’s turf last Nov. 14.

Probable for the 12th Irish O’Brien: Bel Air Sizzle, Garrett Gomez; Gambler’s Justice, Joe Talamo; Swiss Diva, Alex Solis; Unusual Spirit, Victor Espinoza; and Waveline, Rafael Bejarano.

Barry Abrams entered Bel Air Sizzle in Saturday’s Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Pro-Ride, but the trainer said he likely would scratch in favor of the Irish O’Brien.


In typically modest fashion, Kathy Walsh attributes her rash of success at Santa Anita this meet to an influx of horses. Walsh, who has been training since 1970, had 10 wins from 37 starters through Sunday, and nearly twice as many horses at her Hollywood Park base than she previously had.

“I have more horses right now, about 32,” Walsh said. “I only had about 14 before. That’s a big difference, and I have a lot of young horses. I took some nice 2-year-olds last year that just turned three. It’s not that some people are so much better trainers than others. There are an awful lot of good trainers here who just don’t have enough horses to run, and they’re just not getting any chance.

“Yes, you still have to do what’s right by them, but if you have the livestock, it’s that much easier. In recent years, the game has turned to numbers and it’s very difficult to compete if you don’t have the numbers.”

Among Walsh’s major clients are Mark DeDomenico, Joan Hadley, Sanford Robertson and George Schwary, owner/breeder of multiple graded stakes winner Georgie Boy.


On the heels of a first-ever $1 million winner, Santa Anita will once again conduct its popular $1 million St. Patrick’s Horseshoe Pitch contest this Saturday between races.
Saturday also is Dollar Day at Santa Anita. General admission is $1, as are programs, beer, hot dogs, popcorn and soft drinks.

Shown live last year on HRTV, the contest generated national news when John Placzankis, of Ranch Cucamonga, tossed a perfect ringer which set off instant bedlam both trackside and throughout the grandstand. In the immediate aftermath of last year’s $1 million score, Placzankis, when interviewed on HRTV, exclaimed, “The drinks are on me!!”

“The St. Pat’s Pitch is without question on of the most popular events we conduct here at Santa Anita,” said Allen Gutterman, Santa Anita’s Vice President of Marketing. “St. Patrick’s Day falls on Tuesday, and with the event set for Saturday, we think this is the best day for most people to come out and get their Irish up. It’s a lot of fun and as we saw last year, it can be done.”

Fans are encouraged to enter the contest, free of charge, when they attend on Saturday. Entries must be submitted by fifth race post time, and a group of 20 prospective contestants will be posted throughout the facility. Further instructions and contest information will be available on designated television monitors.

“One of our primary themes at this meet has been to offer our customers great value, and this is certainly consistent with that,” Gutterman said. “We feel this is going to be a great way for our fans to get into the swing of the St. Patrick’s celebration. It should be a great day.”

FINISH LINES: Disappointed that he wasn’t able to “take him to the next level,” agent Vince DeGregory has parted company with jockey Corey Nakatani, effective at the end of this week. “I’ve been mulling this over for a few days,” DeGregory said. “I told Corey I was sorry I couldn’t move him up, even though he’s on some good horses like Nan for Craig Dollase and Mr. Hot Stuff for Eoin Harty. “I felt I wasn’t doing the job for him, but we part friends and I wish him the best. If someone needs to hire me, I’m available. Otherwise, I’ll take it easy for a while.” Through Sunday, Nakatani had 10 wins from 124 mounts . . . Sham Stakes winner The Pamplemousse worked three furlongs on Pro-Ride Wednesday in a bullet 36 seconds flat as he prepares for the Santa Anita Derby on April 4. “Awesome,” is how trainer Julio Canani described the move under regular rider Alex Solis . . . Despite reports that champion filly Stardom Bound will make her next start in the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 4, Bobby Frankel said Wednesday morning, “I don’t know what they’re doing,” referring to Stardom Bound’s owners. “She’s not running here in the (Santa Anita) Derby (also April 4),” Frankel said . . . Bittel Road, fourth to Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, will pass Sunday’s Pasadena Stakes in favor of the Grade II, $500,000 Lane’s End Futurity at Turfway Park on March 21, said Todd Pletcher assistant Mike McCarthy . . . Probable for the $70,000 Pasadena for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf: Cape Truth, Joe Talamo; Gallant Son, Solis; Leedstheway, Tyler Baze and Smokey Lonesome, Victor Espinoza . . . Agent Tony Matos reports Espinoza will ride Dontcallmejeri for Doug O’Neill in the Grade III, $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 14 . . . Trainer David Hofmans said Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Desert Code will make his next start in the Grade II Arcadia Handicap at one mile on turf on April 4 . . . Ernie Zampesi, who has ably assisted several head coaches in the National Football League, including Don Coryell and his famous “Air Coryell” offense with the San Diego Chargers, will be Santa Anita’s guest Thursday on the occasion of his 73rd birthday. The first race will be named in his honor . . . Aaron Gryder will head for Dubai in about 10 days where he will ride Well Armed for Harty in the $6 million World Cup and Informed for O’Neill in the $1 million Godolphin Mile on March 28. It will mark the 14th time the 38-year-old jockey has visited Dubai . . . Multiple turf stakes winner Daytona has returned to trainer Dan Hendricks’ barn after a four-month break following the Breeders’ Cup last October. “I plan to breeze him the first week in April,” Hendricks said . . . ‘The Heat’ goes on: When Pretty Unusual won Sunday’s fourth race, it was pretty unusual. It marked at least once every day last week that a horse sired by Unusual Heat won a race at Santa Anita. Apoplectic ($27.60) won on Saturday; Dadsalittleunusual ($6.60) won on Friday; Hot n’ Dusty ($27) won on Thursday; and Unworldly Heat ($4.60) won on Wednesday . . . Jon Shonk, staff handicapper for Today’s Racing Digest, will be Jerry Antonucci’s guest at Saturday’s seminar, 11 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens.